Masks and Shadows by Stephanie Burgis

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Set in 1779, Carlo Morelli, a renowned castrato, has been invited to the Eszterháza Palace, to entertain the nobility . He arrives with an alchemist, who also happens to be a respected member of society, and a Prussian spy. Already at the palace, Charlotte von Steinbeck, sister of Prince Nikolai’s mistress, is trying to find her feet while mourning the loss of her husband, all within the bounds set for a a proper lady, such as herself. When two servants are found murdered by what appear to be supernatural forces, both Carlo and Charlotte must see themselves and others for who they are in order to stop a conspiracy to assassinate the Emperor and Empress themselves.


  • Publisher: Pyr
  • Publication Date: April 12, 2016
  • Language: English
  • Print Length: 319 pages
  • ISBN-10: 1633881326
  • ISBN-13: 978-1633881327
  • ASIN: B011G4E23E
  • File Size: 1026 KB


I put this book on hold through my local library’s ebook platform almost as soon as I finished Congress of Secrets, which, by the way, is the next book in the series, if this can be called a series. Masks and Shadows came first.

It didn’t disappoint.

Charlotte is the most dutiful widow I think I’ve ever read, and unlike some other dutiful women, she isn’t a hidden firebrand with a snarky tongue. She’s naturally quiet, naturally demure and docile. But there’s strength in her, even and especially in those quiet moments. She also has an enormous passion for music, and its in that passion that we see how deep her love can run for things and people outside herself. Of course, music is only what gives us the glimpse. The rest of the book provides numerous opportunities for Charlotte to shine.

Carlo is intelligent and very tuned to the world around him. He’s also bored by the courts that enticed him when he was younger. Perceptive and with a passion for music that just barely surpasses Charlotte’s, I loved the conflict he feels between the role he feels he must play in order to support himself and the desperate need he has for someone who truly understands him. Watching him and Charlotte slowly fall in love was inspiring.

Though this is a fantasy novel, and magic plays a central role in the story, that’s not the main focus of this book. Music, love, and sweeping emotions play out against the backdrop of dark alchemy and hidden knowledge.

I also have to say that I really enjoyed the setting. I don’t often read fantasy novels set in the 1700s, and I wish there were more of them. Prince Nikolai and his mistress (in reality she was unnamed, but here she’s Charlotte’s sister) come through very clearly, along with many other historical figures of the time.

The subplot with Anna and Hadyn’s troupe caught my attention almost as much as the main plot. I loved the back and forth within the group, the advice Anna gets, the friends she makes. And the way it tied into the main plot was just fantastic.

Though the ending is thrilling and worth every moment spent building up to it, my favorite part was the masked ball. Carlo and Charlotte’s dance, not to mention the costumes they chose, had me squealing with joy.

Overall, a great read. Well worth the time.


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